Definition of deserts in English:


plural noun

  • What a person deserves with regard to reward or (more usually) punishment.

    ‘the penal system fails to punish offenders in accordance with their deserts’
    • ‘These are viewed as fair outcomes, as just deserts or rewards for differences in ability, skill or effort, within the framework of a competitive market.’
    • ‘Now for one thing, it is always very risky to introduce concepts like desert and punishment into one's theology, for if one can deserve hell can one also obtain heaven?’
    • ‘He believes that an emphasis on desert not only distorts the Christian message of unconditional love but can lead in practice to cruelty and deprivation.’
    • ‘For example, the claim that medical doctors and business executives are paid too much compared to what manual workers get is a claim of comparative desert.’
    • ‘We must not demand justice if we are to see it anywhere; above all, we must not compare our deserts or rewards with those of others.’
    • ‘There must be some clear prima facie reason for punishment in talk of desert over centuries, and in this theory we have such a reason.’
    • ‘Commentators talk about deserving a result, precisely because there's such a wide gap between deserts and rewards.’
    • ‘It would be our just deserts for being so ‘arrogant’.’
    • ‘If directly doing justice is what affirmative action is about, then its mechanisms must be adjusted as best they can to reward individual desert and true merit.’
    reward, recompense, requital, retribution
    View synonyms


If a person gets their just deserts they get what they deserve. Deserts here is related to deserve, and is spelled with one -s- in the middle; a dessert is a sweet course eaten at the end of a meal. The -ss- spelling in the sense ‘what a person deserves’ is regarded as an error, although in the Oxford English Corpus it is as common as the correct spelling


  • get (or receive) one's just deserts

    • Receive what one deserves, especially appropriate punishment.

      ‘those who caused great torment to others rarely got their just deserts’
      • ‘We took it in our stride, we prepared and we got our just deserts.’
      • ‘Even defendants who are returned to court rarely receive their just deserts.’
      • ‘Both authors would have agreed on one point, however: that the murderer received his just deserts thanks to the workings of divine providence.’
      • ‘When Debra and Robert learn of the deception, Raymond receives his just deserts in a marvelous confrontation scene at the dance club.’
      • ‘Anyway, there are plenty of films where the bad guy/s get their just deserts.’
      • ‘When the thief Clark is tied up by businessman Russell, there is pleasure, even joy, at seeing the criminal get his just deserts; then the situation is reversed and Clark gains the ascendancy.’
      • ‘I know it is low and I'm not proud of it but I did it and I got my just deserts.’
      • ‘You get your just deserts in this world, most often when you least expect them.’
      • ‘Short-term, we all feel good that this guy's going to get his just deserts.’
      • ‘‘If a guy is going out and giving 110 percent of his body to try and succeed, then I want to make sure he gets his just deserts on television,’ says Phil.’
      • ‘I can only hope that the angler got his just deserts from a visit by the Environment Agency bailiffs.’
      • ‘I got my just deserts anyway having to drink the wretched and vile charcoal drink.’
      • ‘It happens seldom enough that miscreants get their just deserts.’
      • ‘All of this might be put down to us being both blatant and stupid travellers, ignorantly and arrogantly swanning our way around and duly receiving our just deserts.’
      • ‘Just watch this get published and then those guys will get their just deserts.’


Middle English: via Old French desert, from deservir ‘serve well’ (see deserve).